Reviews You Can Rely On

Pieps DSP Pro Review

Not recommended due to serious concerns about the safety of the switch design
Pieps DSP Pro
Photo: Pieps
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Price:  $420 List
Pros:  Easy-to-use, lots of features, good range, fast processor, best battery life in our review, excellent multiple burial and flagging features
Cons:  Very concerning safety risks have been cited about the switch design
Manufacturer:   Pieps
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 30, 2018
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92
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Range - 15% 9
  • Speed - 20% 9
  • Single victim search - 20% 9
  • Fine search - 15% 9
  • Multiple burials - 15% 9
  • Features - 15% 10

Our Verdict

The Pieps DSP Pro is one of the more advanced models in our review at a very competitive price. It has similar features, feature options, range, and processor speed as most of the other top contenders. The Pieps DSP Pro is a significant overhaul from its older version, the classic neon yellow Pieps DSP. Some of the improvements over the DSP Sport include an extended range, improved flagging function, a noticeably faster possessor, and better battery life by almost 100 hrs. As a whole, we think that nearly all of the upgrades Black Diamond (Owner of Pieps) made were significant improvements and anyone who has been a big fan of Pieps in the past will be pleased with this newer version. It is nearly as good as our Editors' Choice award winner, the Mammut Barryvox S, but costs considerably less, making it our Top Pick for Professionals looking for some value in their purchase.

Not Recommended — update 10/2020

The Pieps DSP Pro is a product we do not recommend that our readers buy, and we also recommend our readers who already own it do not use it in the backcountry. Numerous safety concerns have been raised about this product in articles such as this detailed analysis by Lou Dawson of WildSnow, this extensive article in Outside Online, and also in social media posts.

These reports cite issues with the slider lock mechanism on the three models of Pieps beacons, including the Pieps DSP Sport, the Pieps DSP Pro Ice and the Pieps DSP Pro. After the complete burial of a top backcountry skier in an avalanche, the skier reported that his beacon had turned off on its own during the avalanche or sometime earlier that day. Once this information was released, other Pieps users reported similar issues where the beacon's harness released the lock on the slider mechanism that controls the beacon's SEND - SEARCH - OFF positions. This YouTube video from 2017 is a good example of someone raising the flag on this issue years ago. Some Pieps users report that their beacon had unintentionally turned off in a similar manner.

While we have not confirmed these reported issues ourselves, we find them deeply concerning and they appear to be quite credible. As a result, we do not recommend a friend buy or use Pieps products incorporating this switch design. We have respect for Pieps as a company, and we hope they will consider a complete recall of all of these products and either replace them with a new design or offer a full refund. It is our opinion that due to these serious and potentially life-threatening concerns about customer safety, that Pieps should not merely try to produce an updated version of the Sport, but rather discontinue the model completely and issue a new design, incorporating an obviously different look under a new name, that addresses these concerns.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Pieps DSP Pro is a beacon that we do not recommend due to numerous and concerning reports that have emerged in 2020 about safety issues related to the switch design cited above.

Pieps has issued this statement:
We know that confidence in your equipment is key. If you have any concerns about your DSP Pro/Sport, please contact us. We will offer you an upgrade to the latest generation of our avalanche transceivers.

If you are in the US or Canada, contact us at: dsp@pieps.com

Below is our review from 2018. At the time, we were not aware of the switch design issues that became widely shared publicly in 2020.

Performance Comparison


Ian Nicholson testing a DSP Pro.
Ian Nicholson testing a DSP Pro.
Photo: Rebecca Schroeder

Range


The Pieps DSP Pro had one of the longer maximum ranges in our review.


We thought that the DPS Pro had around 6-10 more meters of range than the older yellow Pieps DSP and it has approximately 0-5 more meters of range than the DSP Sport. It didn't have quite as much range as our Editors' Choice winner, the Mammut Barryvox S, or its more basic sibling the Mammut Barryvox, but it was close, and none of our testers felt like this model's slightly shorter range ever contributed to a slower rescue time.

Ease of Finding a Single Victim and Speed


The interface is well-labeled and easy to use. The DSP Pro has five directional arrows that can be displayed individually or in combination that do a fantastic job at keeping their user on the flux-line.


The DSP Pro also has one of the quicker processors of any of the products we tested, allowing its user to move more quickly than average compared to other beacons we tested.


The only model that we thought had a marginally faster processor during single victim real-world testing was the BCA Tracker2.

A Pieps DSP Pro uses five directional arrows to help keep the...
A Pieps DSP Pro uses five directional arrows to help keep the rescuer on the flux line.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Use in Fine Search


The fine search generally refers to the bracketing portion of the search, but we also include the final five meters before bracketing begins as part of this category of comparison. The fine search is where the difference in processing speed is the most apparent. Just like in the "Ease of finding a single victim" category we loved the DSP Pro processor speed in the fine search.


It has a quick processor and an easy-to-interpret display. A feature that our experienced testers liked but felt made an even more significant difference with less experienced and less practiced individuals is that the Pieps DSP Pro's directional arrows don't go away until 2 meters. This is a difference from Arva and Mammut beacons which disappear at 3 meters. We saw little difference in more experienced users, but for folks newer to using beacons keeping the directional arrow for an extra meter to help them come in closer to the buried signal was an obvious, though slight speed advantage. Overall, we felt that this beacon produced marginally faster rescue times among a wide cross-section of users than either the Mammut Barryvox S, Ortovox S1+ or Arva Axio.

The DSP Pro with one of the three victims in a "box," showing that...
The DSP Pro with one of the three victims in a "box," showing that it has been flagged.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Ease Of Use In Multiple Burial Situations


The DSP Pro was among our top performers for multiple burial situations. This model did well at differentiating between close proximity burials and performed similarly overall in this situations to the Ortovox S1+ and the Pieps DSP Ice. However, the Arva Axio and Mammut Barryvox S performed slightly better. Unlike the DSP Pro, the Axio and the Barryvox S were both nearly impossible to fool and rarely flagged/mismarked the correct beacon. Additionally, both of these models in addition to the S1+ give the option to scroll through victims, which is a nice function during large-scale rescues or complex professional level rescue drills.


This model does offer the ability to "unmark" the last buried beacon that was marked by pressing and holding the mark button for three seconds, and we found this function to work well. The DSP Pro has a relatively strong signal lock, which is the searching beacon waiting to transition to a new signal despite it potentially coming closer at least for a time. This is widely considered an advantage for more straight-forward close proximity multiple burial situations. That said when it becomes less straightforward, and a rescuer might be forced to micro-strip search, the DSP Pro does it just as well as other models. For example, both the Axio and the Barryvox S feature an analog mode to help with micro-strip searching despite both having solid signal lock designs.

Features


Transmitter Technology

The Pieps DSP Pro, like the all the other current Pieps models, uses their Smart Transmitter Technology. This technology is designed to help eliminate signal overlap during multiple burial situations. Smart Transmitter Technology works when the buried beacon has remained motionless for two minutes (like when you are buried), and it searches (so yes, it is searching and sending at the same time) to see if there is another beacon sending nearby. If the Pieps senses a beacon within five or six meters away it will adjust the cadence, so it doesn't overlap with the other beacon to make it easier on the searcher.

Revert to Send

Unlike the old yellow Pieps DSP, the new DSP Pro can be set up to automatically switch back from searching to sending in the event you are caught in a second avalanche while searching for someone else. Unlike a lot of other models, this feature can only be set up at home via connecting the beacon with a data cable that plugs into the beacon's headphone jack. This feature is slightly controversial and some manufacturers, including Pieps/Black Diamond, don't recommend it because if you are caught in a second avalanche the beacon will likely be in your hands and the odds of you being able to hang onto it during a second avalanche are slim.


Like the old yellow Pieps DSP, the DSP Pro can measure frequency drift of other beacons. The user just presses the scan button for three seconds to engage this feature. Once you stop pressing this button, it turns off the frequency tester. The DSP Pro also features an inclinometer.

Battery Life

The DSP Pro has a battery rating of 400 hours of use while in send mode. This is 100 hrs more than any other model we tested and twice as much as the similarly designed DSP Sport. The remaining battery life is displayed in thirds unlike most beacons which display a percentage, and this is one of the few things we hope that Black Diamond/Pieps change because we like the percentage better.

Pressing both the flag and scan buttons for three seconds while searching tells the Pro to search for a Pieps TX600 Dog Transmitter.

Group Check Mode

As we mentioned, the Pro is designed with a solid signal lock, and it can be slightly challenging to perform function checks in groups with more than 3-5 people. To activate the Group check mode press and hold the Flag button right after the beacon boots up. Once the beacon goes into group check mode, the screen will display CH. This function basically cuts this beacons range down to roughly a meter and will only show distances accordingly in that range (.1-1).

The DSP Pro's signal lock is also significantly reduced when this beacon is operating in this function. Another perk of this model's group check is the screen will display an Er if it is sensing something wrong with one of the signals it is picking up (i.e., one of your friend's beacons). This beacon is hardly terrible at function check without using the group check mode, and this beacon does okay while performing traditional function checks, but making sure you step toward and away from each of the people you are checking helps the DSP Pro to jump more smoothly from one transceiver to the next.

Comfort to Carry

We thought the DSP Pro came with an above average harness carrying system that was very comfortable and relatively easy to use. When carried in a pocket in the backcountry, the Pieps Pro was average. It is thicker than its predecessor and less comfortable. It was quite comparable to the Ortovox S1+ when it came to comfort and being carried in our pocket.

Comparing the thickness and the shape of the older Pieps DSP (left)...
Comparing the thickness and the shape of the older Pieps DSP (left) and the newer Pieps DSP beacon (right). While it doesn't look like much, one of the few things we like better about the older DSP is that it was more comfortable to carry in a zippered pant pocket.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

One of the few things we didn't like is the toggle switch featured on the DSP Pro that allows the user to switch between search mode, send mode and off. We thought it was more difficult to use with thicker gloves or mittens on, however with thin gloves or bare handed it wasn't a big deal.

The controls on the Pro. The toggle from search to send can be...
The controls on the Pro. The toggle from search to send can be difficult to operate with thick gloves on.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The Pieps DSP Sport versus the Pieps DSP Pro


The DSP Pro is $100 more expensive but has a lot more features than the Sport. Is it worth the difference? Depends on the user. We think that a majority of backcountry users won't use most of the features of the Pro and would be fine with the Sport. Some of the differences between the two are battery life, with the DSP Pro (400 hours) having twice as much battery life as the Sport (200 hours). The Pro also has around 5-7 more meters of range, with the Sport checking in close to 50 meters and the Pro clocking in just below 60 meters of maximum range. The Sport also doesn't have either the rangefinder feature or the frequency drift checking function (both detailed above). They both have a speedy processor and one of our favorite flagging features for multiple burials.

Comparing the new DSP Pro (Left) and the older Pieps DSP (Right)
Comparing the new DSP Pro (Left) and the older Pieps DSP (Right)
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Best Applications


The DSP Pro is a more complex product that is best appreciated by guides and trip leaders. It has a lot of features that many backcountry enthusiasts will never use. For folks that like the Pieps overall layout but aren't sure they need all the additional features, check out the Pieps DSP Sport.

Value


The DSP Pro is the best value among the nicer models. It has almost all the same features as the Ortovox S1+ and the Mammut Barryvox S but is $70 to $80 less than all of them. The DSP Pro is a little more expensive than many of the more basic models, like the BCA Tracker2, the Ortovox Zoom+, and the Ortovox 3+, which all run closer to $300, but the Pro has a bunch more features. If you like the Pieps DSP Pro but not sure if you want to spend the money, check out the DSP Sport, which at $320 is as good or better than most of the products in the $250-$350 range.

Conclusion


The Pieps DSP Pro is one of the best overall avalanche beacons on the market and is very comparable to the other top beacons but slightly less expensive. With that said, we think at least half of backcountry users don't need and will almost never use most of the additional features of the DSP Pro and should strongly consider the Sport or Backcountry Access Tracker3.

Ian Nicholson